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Corn technology shifts

Gil Gullickson 02/14/2011 @ 1:21pm Crops Technology Editor for Successful Farming magazine/Agriculture.com

Last year was known as the corn year that wasn’t. In some areas, like most of Minnesota, 2010 was a banner corn year.

It started that way across most of the Corn Belt, too, with bluebird planting weather occurring. Subsequent prolific rains set corn up for problems like nitrogen losses.

Some Positives

On the plus side, though, some pests that plagued corn have receded in some areas. Several years ago, western bean cutworm threatened  corn for Gail Witt, a Missouri Valley, Iowa, farmer, who farms with his brother, Duane, his daughter, Elizabeth, and his nephews, Jeremy and Johnnie.

In the past couple years, though, they haven’t bothered the Witt’s corn.

“I don’t know where they went,” says Witt. “They just haven’t been a problem.” 

Last year was also a testament to staying the course in hybrid selection. Better drydown, for example, was also a big factor following the long, drawn-out 2009 harvest. Planting shorter-season hybrids was a popular strategy in 2010. Last year, a lot of people were looking for better drydown.

Still, sticking with 111- to 116-day relative maturities paid off for the Witts in 2010.

“2009 was such an extreme year,” says Witt. “We did not make a switch to earlier corn on our own farm. Instead, we stuck with full-season corn.”

Trait Technology Shift

In the midst of factors like these, farmers are facing a seed industry in the midst of a trait upgrade.

“The biggest factor is a shift in trait technology offerings,” says Jeff Hartz, Wyffels Hybrids director of marketing. This shift started in 2010, as triple and quad stacks by companies were joined by the debut of SmartStax. This trait package, developed by Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, contains six above- and below-ground insect traits, plus two herbicide-resistant traits.

“In addition to the multiple modes of action, we get reduced refuge with the new technology,” says Hartz. “Reducing the insect refuge from 20% to 5% offers strong on-farm profitability.” A refuge is a portion of non-Bt corn that must accompany Bt corn to prevent insect resistance.

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